Cattle grazing options not strict enough for Lahontan
Water officials and environmentalists are concerned that since the 12,000-acre Meiss Meadows has failed fecal coliform tests in recent years, continued grazing there will lead to more violations.
“Based on current fecal coliform data, water-quality standards are violated every time livestock are introduced to Meiss Meadows,” states a report from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, commenting on an environmental proposal about the meadow’s future use. “This suggests that grazing should not be allowed on Meiss Meadows.”
The area, located on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, has been used for grazing since 1868. The Upper Truckee River, Tahoe’s largest tributary, starts in the meadow at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet.
The U.S. Forest Service owns the land at Meiss Meadows and permits a California ranch business to graze cattle there in the summer. The Joses family of Mountain Ranch, Calif., and Cuneo family of Jackson have operated the ranch for more than 10 years.
The Forest Service is accepting comments on the Environmental Assessment, which outlines future plans for that area, until Oct. 12. It identifies two alternatives, and the assessment’s preferred alternative will continue to allow grazing. However, changes will have to be made to help protect the meadows and stream areas.
Lahontan officials are concerned the changes are not enough and more alternatives should be looked into, according to the agency’s comments.
Lahontan earlier this year issued a notice of violation to the Forest Service for several year’s worth of fecal coliform violations at Meiss Meadows. There were violations of standards in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1997 – all years when cows grazed the meadow. In 1992,1994, 1995 and 1998, there were either no cows or no sampling.
The proposal will allow grazing from July 15 to Oct. 15. The plan will limit the amount of stream bed disturbance there can be and vegetation that can be eaten. Monitoring is called for, and if too much disturbance has happened or too much vegetation has been eaten, the permitee will have to take the cattle away for the season.
“I think the general feeling (the permitee) has is they can make this management plan work for their operation,” said Pat Blacklock, director of administration and policy affairs for the California Cattleman’s Association. “I think they have a few concerns, but I think they can be worked out.”
Grazing has long been an issue of contention at Tahoe. Some agencies say it has an impact on the water quality of the streams running into the lake, not only because of pathogens from manure but also because of sediment sent downstream from cattle trampling banks and stream beds.
Lahontan isn’t the only organization concerned about the proposal.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe is concerned that visitors could become ill from the fecal coliform levels, grazing increases erosion in the stream areas and the cattle’s presence threatens plants growing in the area and could harm Lahontan cutthroat trout habitat in the streams.
The California Attorney General’s Office also is opposing grazing in the area.
If grazing is to continue there, an Environmental Impact Statement, a more complete assessment than the EA, should be completed, said Lisa Trankley, deputy attorney general. The current document doesn’t address the issue adequately.
Ken Tate, a range land watershed specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension, has visited the Meiss area and, while unable to speak to the fecal coliform issue, said the grazing management “looks really good.”
“The biggest erosion I saw was a hiking trail,” he said. “The stream itself looked very stable, very well vegetated. I saw a large population of trout as we walked along it. I think, overall, the grazing management was OK.”
Copies of the Environmental Assessment Meiss Grazing Allotment are available in local libraries and at the U.S. Forest Service’s office at 870 Emerald Bay Road.
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